Before the dawn breaks to cast the first daylight into our homes, the night soil man trudges through the streets to empty the buckets containing human waste, all drenched in sweat and stench during the pre-independence period. The day progresses just like any other. This was the common sight back in the 1950s. The connected sewerage system almost did not exist five decades ago. As days turned into months, and months into years, more sophisticated system such as individual and communal septic tanks, Imhoff tanks and oxidation ponds came into existence.
As a testament to the government’s commitment in ensuring proper sanitation and environmental care, Indah Water Konsortium (IWK) was brought under its wings through the Ministry of Finance Incorporated. IWK was tasked to carry out its mandate of operating and maintaining the sewerage system and desludging septic tanks, according to the Water Services Industry Act 2006.
That is just a short glimpse of the past that shapes who we are today, with IWK intending to take its responsibility to the mandate further by elevating the services of sewerage management for Malaysia.
Currently, IWK provides sewerage services to approximately 24 mil customers nationwide, save areas such as Kelantan, Sabah, Sarawak, Johor Bahru and Pasir Gudang. Ever since the management of sewerage systems were taken over by IWK, water-borne diseases have been negligible. This is because the treated wastewater from our plant, which are then discharged into the river, complies with the high and stringent standards that preserve the environment.
The by-products resulting from treating wastewater also hold the potential to drive the concept of a circular economy for the nation. IWK is poised to partake in this exciting prospect, but require the partnership of industry players to create an impetus for the growth potential. The discharge effluent can potentially be used as alternative source for the industries.
Likewise, bio-solids could be put to good use, such as to be reused as soil conditioners and fertilisers to improve soil conditions and enhance the growth of non-food crops. On top of that, it can be used to generate renewable energy.
The third by-product from our wastewater treatment, bio-gas, is currently used to supplement electricity generation in our plants, cushioning some of the operational costs. Most of these by-products are ready to be utilised by existing industries, which can alleviate some of the adversities we face, such as water supply shortages during the dry spell season.
Not only is it tough to imagine what the state of the nation’s sanitation would be like, it is also unthinkable how society would progress forward economically and socio-economically without our unsung heroes in the dirty, difficult and dangerous (3D) realm . The cost of treating wastewater is ever increasing; however, IWK believes that the current and future generations should be able to enjoy the environment around them.
If left unchecked, the pristine river resources that we have now will disappear. The heavy pollution at Sungai Kim Kim, Pasir Gudang serves as an unfortunate reminder to the correlation between the environment and health conditions. Unmonitored solid waste disposal sites, manufacturing industry discharge, illegal hazardous dumping and raw sewage discharge mainly contribute to the pollution of the rivers that can harm our living conditions.
That said, the responsibility to preserve the environment does not solely belong to environmental companies, but to the public and all stakeholders as well. IWK is cognisant of the fact that current efforts will charter the path for the current and future generations, but it will require the participation of all stakeholders. Echoing the Minister of Land, Water and Natural Resources YB Dr Xavier Jayakumar on the crucial aspect of competent sewerage management, “Without the good and systematic management of sewage water, we will face a situation of odour pollution and the possibility of the outbreak of epidemics.”